Behind the Sofa with Simon Spanton

BehindTheSofaAs you can imagine, certain members of the Gollancz team are very excitable about the 50th Anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who, not least because we’ve published a book about it. Behind the Sofa collates lots of celebrity memories of watching the Doctor, and we wanted to share our own.

If you’ve missed any of our extracts from the book, you can catch up on them here. We’ll also be watching The Day of The Doctor at the weekend (some of us have even gone for 3D), and we will of course let you know our views. Today, Simon, Associate Publisher at Gollancz, shares his memories with us.

I have an odd relationship with Doctor Who. But then I think if you have any relationship with Doctor Who it’s liable to be an odd one. I was never an obsessive. But when I was a kid it was (along with Crackerjack and Blue Peter) part of the structure of your week. And I did my fair share of hiding behind the sofa. Who was my doctor? Pertwee, initially, but I remember the bizarre shock of the transformation scene that turned him into Tom Baker. Your kindly granddad turns into your mad uncle. But as I say, it never ruled my life. Perhaps it was because back then (whisper it) I just wasn’t that into SF…  So I’m vague about series dates, episode titles, which assistant went where, you know the sort of thing.

And thereby hangs my tale…

I remember the story about the Wirrn (don’t know what it was called, as I say, bear with me). I remember the visceral horror of watching the space-station(?) crewman hysterically beating his transformed arm against the control console – helplessly trying to destroy the part of himself that had become ‘other’  – as if that would somehow help. That terrified me. The, I guess you’d call it existential, horror of the moment completely cutting to my core and (no doubt) blinding me to the crappy special effects of his ‘chrysalis/maggoty arm thing’.

And I remember the one about the giant robot. And I remember the magic failing as, tied to a ridiculously small SFX budget the poor team on the programme layered a shot of a painfully obvious Action Man Scorpion tank (a Scorpion with a short 76mm cannon, not a Scimitar with a 30mm Rarden cannon – you can see that was what I was really into then) over an outside shot of the distant ‘giant robot’. The scales fell from my eyes, my innocence was gone – I didn’t believe Doctor Who anymore.

But this is the thing. Discussing this blog with Marcus (now he really is an obsessive) it became clear that the Wirrn came after the giant robot. I’d always assumed it was the other way round. So Doctor Who still had me, it was still able to weave magic even after its tricks were revealed. I love this fact.

And it’s the (occasional, let’s be honest) power of its imagination that has kept Doctor Who going for fifty years. And however much I moan about the recent series (I like Matt Smith but I think the show has become a hostage to its own success with storylines that always try to up the ‘Save the Universe!’ ante) it’s  that power of the imagination that meant that, until a couple of years ago me, my wife, my mum (at Christmas) and my kids could all sit down and watch it. For any series to manage that pull across generations (even if it has since become much less required viewing in our house) is pretty special. Will I watch The Day of the Doctor? Yes I will. Am I hopeful for its quality? Not especially. But I will be there. The special effects we can rely on now, I just hope they remember to allow for a few small existential moments amongst all the boom and the bang and the whizz. Also – John Hurt? Yaay!